And the women are being shoved into chronically overcrowded female prisons — with four out of ten being released early.
Prison Service figures show the number of female prisoners has nearly doubled in the last five years — now accounting for almost one in five of all committals.
The development comes as the Prison Service recorded its first significant drop in committals last year. The 2013 Prison Service annual report, published yesterday, shows:
* Committals fell from 17,026 in 2012 to 15,735 in 2013.
* Females accounted for 18% of committals in 2013, while male committals fell by 8%.
* The number of females being sent to prison has almost doubled since 2008, from 1,225 to 2,326.
* Committals for non-payment of court fines fell slightly from 8,304 in 2012 to 8,121 in 2013, but is still ahead of previous years: 7,514 in 2011, 6,683 in 2010 and 4,806 in 2009
* The number of females committed for failure to pay fines has risen steadily from 1,054 in 2009, to 1,300 in 2011, 1,687 in 2012, and 1,894 in 2013
Justice Minister Alan Shatter welcomed the overall drop in committals but said the jailing of women was a “major issue”.
“There are a number of women being returned to Dóchas, very shortly they are back again. Some of them seem to, by choice, return to prison because they don’t have accommodation and supports outside.”
He said this was why the Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service had produced a strategy document on women offenders, also published yesterday.
Prison Service director general Michael Donnellan said: “We do have a particular problem with women: it’s going up and up, whereas with men it is stabilising and coming down.”
He said for short-term female prisoners they, along with the Probation Service and other agencies, hoped to open “supervised supportive accommodation” by summer’s end.
For longer-term female inmates, he said that under the strategy they would be examining the possibility of setting up an open centre.
The report shows the two female prisons — Dóchas and Limerick female — are among the most overcrowded in the system.
The average population in 2013 in Dóchas was 127, where the bed capacity is only 75. In addition 75 were on temporary release (37% of inmates). In Limerick female, there were on average 29 inmates for 29 beds, with 34 on temporary release (54% of its inmates).
Official figures show the situation has worsened: with 141 in Dóchas and 33 in Limerick female.
Mr Shatter said there will be 50 prison spaces for women in Limerick when the new wings are built.